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Bill Clinton versus Obama on the campaign trail

By Felicia Sonmez

A little while back, we wrote about how new Gallup data indicated that former President Bill Clinton might prove to be a more effective surrogate for candidates this fall than President Barack Obama.

Now, it appears that those numbers are bearing out on the campaign trail.

Compare the schedules of Clinton and Obama over the next few days. Clinton is hitting Scranton tomorrow to campaign on behalf of Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), who faces a tight race against former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) for the seat of Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.).

Obama, meanwhile, is in Texas today headlining two fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (in between, he'll be giving a speech on higher education and the economy at the University of Texas).

Greeting Obama on the tarmac in Austin this afternoon will be Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) -- and absent will be the candidate hoping to unseat Perry this fall, former Houston Mayor Bill White (D). (White is attending previously-scheduled campaign events in Midland, Abilene and Alvarado.)

That a Democratic candidate in a state won by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by 11 points in 2008 would opt against appearing with the president is not exactly a big surprise. (Indeed, when Obama headlined a DNC fundraiser last week in Georgia -- which McCain won 52 to 47 percent -- Democratic gubernatorial nominee Roy Barnes was elsewhere). But it speaks to a larger fact: over the last several months, Clinton has been the more active -- and visible -- campaign-trail surrogate of the two.

By the end of August, Clinton will have held events for at least 10 Democratic candidates in the past three months.

He swept into Arkansas to campaign for Sen. Blanche Lincoln in late May. In June, he stumped for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada. In July, he made a swing through Rhode Island to campaign for state Treasurer and gubernatorial hopeful Frank Caprio, followed by a Boston event for Rep. Stephen Lynch. Tomorrow, Clinton is in Pennsylvania campaigning for Sestak; he'll also stump for Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, who's running against Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), and hold an evening fundraiser for Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee Dan Onorato.

Next week, Clinton is slated to attend three events in Florida for Rep. Kendrick Meek (D), for whom he's already held five fundraisers this cycle. Clinton also held a late July fundraiser for Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) and one last week for Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.).

On top of that, he's backed (but not held rallies for) Democratic gubernatorial candidates including White in Texas, state Attorney General Thurbert Baker in Georgia and state Senate President Libby Mitchell in Maine as well as Colorado Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff.

Obama's schedule of stumping for candidates over the past few months has been active as well, but it lags just behind Clinton's.

The president headlined a rally and fundraiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and the DSCC in May. Then, he was off the trail until last month, when he stumped for Reid and Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D).

Last week, he stumped for Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D), who is facing Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in the battle for Obama's former Senate seat.

Then Obama makes a swing out west next week to campaign for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) in Wisconsin and Sen. Patty Murray (D) in Washington, followed by an event for Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and one for Florida Democrats at which Meek and gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink will be in attendance.

One telltale difference between the itineraries of the president and former president: Obama's events for candidates this month are mostly fundraisers, while Clinton's events have been a mix of fundraisers and rallies.

That may speak to the fact that Clinton enjoys greater popularity among independents and Republicans than the current president -- 60 percent of independents and 30 percent of Republicans viewed Clinton favorably in the July Gallup poll, while 50 percent of independents and 17 percent of Republicans felt favorably toward Obama.

One area where the two are essentially tied, however, is support among members of their own party -- Obama is viewed favorably by 86 percent of Democrats, compared to 89 percent for Clinton -- which may explain why both have been a big draw when it comes to hitting the fundraising circuit for Democratic candidates (and committees) this summer.

By Felicia Sonmez  |  August 9, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Governors , House , Senate  
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